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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Students build global community by hosting strangers on couches

    Tim+Glass+%2F+Arizona+Daily+Wildcat%0A%0ALaura+Reyes%2C+a+college+of+nursing+senior%2C+shows+off+her+couch+on+October+20th.++Laura+is+a+member+of+CouchSurfers.com+and+allows+people+who+visit+Tucson+to+crash+on+her+couch+for+free.
    Tim Glass
    Tim Glass / Arizona Daily Wildcat Laura Reyes, a college of nursing senior, shows off her couch on October 20th. Laura is a member of CouchSurfers.com and allows people who visit Tucson to crash on her couch for free.

    When Teresa Mazzarella studied abroad in Europe, she hoped she could travel the country as well. Instead of spending an excessive amount of money on a hotel or hostel, Mazzarella decided to engage in a more culturally stimulating route by staying in the home of a local whom she had never met before. 

    This is the basic idea behind couchsurfing, a global phenomenon launched in 2004 that provides weary travelers an opportunity to rest on random couches. The project provides an alternative to hostels or hotels and allows the traveler to explore the city through the eyes of those who live there. Through Web sites like couchsurfing.org, people can seek out homes to sleep at while away from home.

    Victoria Klocko, a junior majoring in French and German, feels that sharing a house with someone she’s never met is the best way to get around. 

    “”You are staying in their house, so you are staying in their personal space and you are learning about their personal life,”” she said. “”It is not just the city that you are staying in but also the people, and it is really neat to be able to share that intimacy with them.””

    Couchsurfing.org’s database holds over a million people yearning to connect with fellow travelers across the globe. Each member has a profile where they post information about themselves, references from other couchsurfers and information about staying on their couch.

    “”When you are looking for a host, you are not just looking for someone to stay with; you are looking for someone who has similar interests,”” Klocko said.

    Mazzarella feels the same when it comes to bringing people into her own home. “”I don’t want to host someone like a hermit,”” she said. After Mazzarella’s stint in Europe, she felt the need to host people herself.

    “”I wanted to give them that experience,”” she said. “”(Our host) put us first and wanted us to have a good time; it makes you want to do nice things for people.””

    Couchsurfers can also get involved within their own community by attending events in their area. Klocko, who also holds weekly meet-ups for fellow members of the site, said they are the best way to get involved for those who are wary of letting people stay in their homes.

    “”It is good way to get to take baby steps,”” she said. Although the range of people who participate in the meet-ups vary, they all have one common interest: traveling. “”You know that you can trust them, and in the end they are really good-hearted people,”” she said.

    That openness contributes to the trust that people have on the site. Laura Reyes, a nursing senior, also thinks people need to go into the situation with an “”anything goes”” attitude. “”I think you have to be a really open person to do it,”” she said.

    It’s also a convenient alternative for those who are looking to save a few bucks while exploring the world.

    “”Whenever I go travel I want to save as much money as I can,”” Reyes said. “”I think it’s a great way to travel, especially for students.””

    When Mazzarella went to Europe, she was looking for the same thing.

    “”All my friends were looking at hostels and I was just like, ‘you guys are spending so much money,'”” she said.

    Klocko also raved about the benefits of staying on a couch versus the experience of a hostel. “”A hostel is literally a boarding house,”” she said. “”You go there, you sleep, there is maybe breakfast and you might meet a few people.””

    The personal experience is what Klocko was initially attracted to. “”You don’t get to know the city as well as if you are staying with a host,”” she said. When in England, Klocko went out on a limb and tried out her first couchsurfing experience. Klocko was stuck on the other side of the city from her hostel, and decided to give her newfound friend, whom she met on couchsurfing.org, a call. She said he was completely willing to host her last minute and even offered her extra clothes.

    “”Couchsurfing beats everything, hands down,”” she said.

    To become a member, couchsurfers fill out profiles and gain references vouching for their ability to host other people. Members also have the opportunity to turn down surfing offers or state that they only want to grab a bite to eat with the traveler instead of having them sleep in their home.

    Mazzarella suggests checking out the home before staying there. “”You can go for the day and see if they are cool or not, and just say that you have somewhere else to stay if you are uncomfortable,”” she said. However, users of the site swear by its legitimacy. Although some people who request to surf a couch might not have any friends or references, hosts are encouraged to turn people down if they feel bothered.

    “”You have to be oblivious to not know those people are out there,”” Mazzarella said.

    Reyes also likes the way the organization is set up. “”It gives you a pretty good perspective of people,”” she said.

    Despite the stigmas, the organization is dedicated to bringing the global community together. With ways to get involved within the community and meet people from different cultures, couchsurfing.org has got the idea of bringing people together down pat.

    Klocko feels that the benefits outweigh the risks. “”What is the harm in it?”” she said. “”I am building community globally and locally.””

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